A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor sent me to a November 13th segment of CBS’s 60 Minutes. In case you haven’t seen it, you can find it here. Steve Kroft interviewed, among others, Peter Schweizer, author of a new book called Throw Them All Out. Schweizer and a group of student researchers have studied the finances of our congress, and discovered what the author calls “honest graft.”
Really? Graft can be honest? According to Dictionary.com, graft is:
the acquisition of money, gain, or advantage by dishonest, unfair, or illegal means, especially through the abuse of one’s position or influence in politics, business, etc.
I don’t know why I’m gob-smacked over the news that members of congress have amassed fortunes unethically, albeit legally, using knowledge of non-public information to inform their stock decisions. After all, congress has been voting in the interests of the top 1% for a long time. That’s how they become millionaires.
Among the most egregious actions was the betting, by a member of the Financial Services committee, Spencer Baccus, against the financial stability of the United States. John Boehner profited from buying Insurance Company stock while fighting to bring down a health care plan for Americans, and alas, Nancy Pelosi benefited financially in purchasing an IPO from Visa, at a time when legislation detrimental to the interests of credit card companies was dying in the house.
Kroft also interviewed Brian Baird, a former house member from Washington, who introduced a bill in 2004 to ban insider trading in congress. Baird explained that he’d failed to garner support for the bill, and Kroft followed with a hilarious, or tragic, segment that asked house members if they’d ever heard of the Bill, H.R. 1148, known as the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act. They said they hadn’t, of course, just like Baccus, Boehner and Pelosi emphatically denied any impropriety in becoming wealthy in congress.
Baird appeared dumfounded at the position that many members of congress have put themselves in. He wondered aloud how they would have to decide, at each piece of legislation, whose interests they served. On one side of the scale is personal wealth, on the other, the interests of the 99%. A no-brainer, apparently.
Congress is like a giant mosquito sucking the blood out of Americans, and we don’t even reach out and squash it. I think it’s time.